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If any artist would know about being left alone it was surely James Wayne.

Not only was he largely forgotten by history after his recordning days were over, but Wayne himself was locked up at the laughing academy for years because nobody believed he was who he said he was.

In contrast to those ignominious fates, being left by a sweetheart – and even having no tangible evidence of this record by way of a label scan of this side of the single – must seem like nothing more than minor inconveninces in the big scheme of things.


Asking Friends In Her Neighborhood
Love songs – and their inevitable flip-sides, break-up songs – are the most popular topics for commercial singles in almost every major style of music utilizing lyrics.

It’s the one universal theme that will connect with listeners of all ages (after puberty hits at least), as well as both genders and those from all economic, regional and racial backgrounds.

In other words if you sing about falling in or out of love, you have a huge built in audience because everybody has experienced both of those sensations plenty of times in their own lives and they remain powerful memories no matter how far removed you are from the initial impact of each of them.

Yet with so many three minute records over so many decades exploring the same sentiments, it can become difficult to bring anything new to the discussion, not only in terms of plausible scenarios, but also specific lyrics. Even melodies following the same slow pace tend to sound alike after awhile.

But James Wayne has proven that he usually approaches songs from a direction that is decidedly off-center and so if anyone can offer a new perspective it’s bound to be him.

Sure enough even the title, Vacant Pillow Blues, wraps the entire backstory up in three words leaving the rest of the song for him to tell us about the fallout from his broken relationship.

It may not wind up offering any novel insights on love gone wrong, but at least it’s not going to be heading down the exact same road as so many other tunes of this nature.


When Dawn Approached This Morning
The basic components of the song are familiar enough no matter how he bends and twists the narrative.

Slow aching horns, pitched somewhere between crying in their own right and peering in on him as if to observe his misery, lead things off and provide a constant inescapable backdrop to his tale of woe.

When James Wayne rises from bed to get the story moving he takes his time, setting the scene by painting a picture of the emotional cell he finds himself in which is epitomized by the Vacant Pillow Blues he stares at each day since his baby left.

The agonizing pace allows the weight of this burden sink in on the listener, making it all sound stark and dreary even without focusing on the slowly unfolding plot. But by letting it unwind at this rate he also spares himself from having to divulge too many details which keeps him from running out of images to convey his loneliness.

Thankfully he doesn’t just sit around and brood about it, he’s actually headed out looking for her, as if that’ll do any good. I doubt even he believes it will, but sometimes being proactive is all a person has to fall back on if they don’t want to crack up over something that is now out of their hands entirely.

As the plot goes, that’s about it. He wanders around, his head down, hands in pockets, scuffling down the street in an endless funk. He asks those he encounters if they’ve seen her, probably not even having to wait for their answers to know she’s not coming back.

Obviously this is not a song with slam-bang action at any turn. In fact this has about as much movement as an oil painting. But as an effective atmospheric mood piece it does a lot better, though how much you’re willing to tolerate of someone wallowing in their own pity is uncertain.

What no one can question however is how convincing in the role he is and bolstered by those sorrowful horns you couldn’t ask for a more vivid picture of the heartache he’s enduring. With Wayne’s naturally cracked vocal tone adding the right touch of pathos to his story there’s really no way you could say he falls short with his performance. It’s written fairly well, sung with genuine feeling and arranged to highlight the desolate world he’s living in.

But whether listening to someone recount his darkest days with no end in sight, no resolution to his trevails and not even a glimmer of hope that the sun will come out tomorrow – to swipe a phrase – is worth enduring more than once or twice a year is another matter entirely.


Didn’t Do No Good
They say you can take just about anything in life, provided it’s consistent enough for you to get used to and treat it as normal.

If you were to take one of us in the Twenty-First Century and drop us in the middle of the 17th Century we’d be aghast at what we’d have to do without and would probably go crazy envisioning all of the modern conveniences we no longer had access to. Yet if that’s what we were faced with for the next twenty-five years we’d eventually adapt.

The same is true about relationships. A person who is alone doesn’t view it as abnormal when it’s their everyday reality, but when they’ve been with a sweetheart and that relationship suddenly ends the resulting shock to the system is often far more damaging than the actual loss of somebody’s head resting on the pillow next you in bed each night.

As James Wayne sings Vacant Pillow Blues the event is recent enough where that shock hasn’t worn off yet and so, though he may not realize it himself, we know that he only has to make it through the next few weeks or months – or year or so if it was a long term affair – before he being alone doesn’t seem so daunting any more.

By then of course the hope is he’ll have found somebody new and then he can try and write a love song to describe that magical turn of events in a new and innovative way.

In either case however, there’s bound to be a sizable chunk of the listening audience who is going through the same thing at the same time too. If you’re in the audience though, sometimes it’s best to play the records from the OTHER end of the relationship spectrum than you’re currently on, just to keep your own life in perspective.


(Visit the Artist page of James Wayne for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)